Thursday, September 5, 2013

GOD'S BIG BLUNDER


I just reread the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2-3).  It’s pretty straightforward, really.  God created Adam and Eve and set them up in the Garden of Eden.  He gave them only one rule: They could eat of anything in the garden, except God forbade them to eat of one tree in the center of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Eating from that tree would be considered disobedience to him.  Here they were in paradise--no pain, no problems--perfect people in a perfect place.  All they had to do was remain obedient to God’s one requirement.  The test seemed pretty easy, frankly.  And presumably they knew that God was the creator and that without him, they would not have existed.  Even so, they failed--and miserably--first Eve and then Adam.  So God kicked them out of paradise, and there’ve been problems ever since. . . So the story goes.

Of course, most people consider the story a myth, a brief allegory serving as metaphor for more serious questions regarding the origins and meaning of sin.  One of the important interpretations of the story is that when God created humans he could have made them perfect automatons without freedom of choice, and they would have remained sinless.  Instead he gave them free will.  Now they could choose to remain obedient or not.  And they chose not.

But here’s the thing.  If Adam and Eve had been the only ones who failed the test, I might think differently.  But everyone ever since has failed.  Everyone of an accountable age has made mistakes, done things they wish they hadn’t--sinned, if you will.  If things could have gone either way, then the fact that every single human being has failed tells me that the problem is not with us making the wrong choices.  The problem is with God, the omnipotent one.  He did a terrible job, made a huge blunder in my view.  I might feel differently if there were some people who remained obedient, sinless.  But every single person a sinner?  We never really had a chance.  We just weren’t built to pass the test.  

Having said that, there is an alternate interpretation, the idea of Original Sin.  As I understand it, Adam’s and Eve’s sinning resulted in a fundamental change in humankind.  Because of Adam’s and Eve’s original sin, we are born with a sinful nature.  It's no longer a level playing field.  The argument here is that Adam and Eve did have a fighting chance to remain perfect, but because they in fact failed, we are now different (physically? mentally?) and cannot help but sin.  But, frankly, that interpretation doesn’t make me feel any better.  Didn’t God in his omniscience see where this was going?  And couldn’t he in his omnipotence have done something about it?  If Adam and Eve had had a reasonable chance, then why not leave things that way with the thought that some of their descendants would succeed?  Why would Adam's and Eve's weakness have to change things for everyone else?  Why should we be disadvantaged because of something our ancestors did?

Of course, there is another explanation for all of this, the one I find most reasonable: No God, no creation, no Adam or Eve, no Garden of Eden, no free will, no sin, no fall.  The creation story has more elegance and complexity than I had recalled.  And I think that when it was written, it served to satisfy a need for answers to questions about origins that we did not have the tools (science) otherwise to answer at the time.  But we’re way past that at this point.

© 2013 John M. Phillips

11 comments:

  1. I thought that story was a metaphor for puberty / coming of age (feel free to throw in some additional misogynistic nuances, or perhaps that it was from a boy's point of view only), and all the stuff after that is about living life as an adult. Then again, I don't think I've ever properly read any of it, excluding skimming half of the "illustrated children's bible" once when I was about 12.

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    1. I've always said that one of my regrets/shortcomings was that you never got the opportunity to experience the Christian myths in the way that I did. But maybe there's another side to this: You come to them with a fresh perspective.

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    2. Really, you would have, like, sent me to Sunday school as some sort of thought experiment? I am SO GLAD I did not experience those myths the way you did. Santa was enough.

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    3. Maybe there could have been a happy medium someplace.

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  2. Most people think of it as an arbitrary test...which must be punished and the punishment is death. But what if it wasn't, what if they were deceived and believed lies about God that brought fear and mistrust, and caused separation. And then death is a natural consequence of separation? Why did they run and hide? Had God ever done anything to hurt them? Why do children run and hide and tell lies when they feel guilty? Yet some of the things parents tell their children not to do are for their own well being and safety. We warn them to look both ways when crossing a street, but if they don't and are hit by a car and hurt or die, it isn't because we punished them, it's a natural consequence. Isn't that the same with the tree...listening to the tempter and believing his lies was the problem here, not eating the fruit. God was just trying to protect them for the influence of a troublemaker. Like telling your kid never to get in a car with a stranger...it's not the car that's a problem it's who is in the car.

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    1. Lisa,
      You may have missed the point of this little essay. Why is it that everybody--everybody--has failed the test of obedience to God? If God had set the standard such that we had a decent chance of staying faithful to his rules, it would seem that a lot of people would have succeeded. Instead, everybody has failed. Not a single person has lived a life of complete obedience. So God blew it when he set things up initially with Adam and Eve. That's what I meant when I spoke of God's "blunder."

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  3. When I first studied about original sin
    formally I thought "that's not fair." Why should all humans be born with a sinful nature through no fault of their own. Then I realized the whole plan of salvation in Christianity is based on this act of sin in the Garden of Eden and we therefore need a savior to redeem us. This fit with the ongoing Christian education I grew up with. Because we are born sinners the whole human race is in need of salvation. I always wondered how a sweet newborn could be considered sinful even at birth.
    At least SDAs are consistent in believing in the literal creation story as it relates to the need of a savior or Messiah and therefore the whole Judeo-Christian history.
    If one believes in the current knowledge humans have obtained in all the sciences as well as archeology, history, genetics,etc, a literal belief in the creation story is difficult if not impossible. To me without the literal story of creation and the fall, the "original sin" story falls apart as does a human need for a savior.

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    1. I agree that the idea of Original Sin relies on there being a creation story and doesn't seem to make sense without it. And of course the creation story is simply incompatible with modern science, as you say. So that makes the idea that humans had a shot at remaining sinless even more unreasonable, as every human ever born has been sinful. "God" simply did a terrible job.

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  4. Or you could look at it as a virus...passed on from generation to generation and the only one that has been able to produce the remedy is Jesus and unless we trust Him and believe He can heal us and come to Him like a Doctor and follow His course of action, our character will remain flawed...but though His indwelling power we can overcome selfishness, or at least the desire to be selfish and stop living in fear of others, and always be trying to save self at their expense....but instead die to self, (the flawed nature) and thereby live...it is hard to comprehend.

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    1. Lisa,

      I have to say that, speaking for myself, I do not "trust" Jesus in the way you indicate, nor do I believe he can "heal us," as you say. Even so, I do not consider myself to have a "flawed" character. I don't believe I am anymore "selfish" than others, Christian or otherwise, nor do live in fear of others, nor am I always trying to save myself at their expense. It simply isn't true, as you imply, that followers of Christ have a corner on good character.

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  5. Lisa and John,
    John, your response to Lisa's view of original sin is "like a virus" is right on target.
    Lisa, I would further respond to your likening of original sin as a like a virus in this way- As I previously stated I do not believe in the literal story of creation and the garden of Eden. Therefore I do not believe there is "original sin" requiring a salvation plan. So Lisa,my question is why would your analogy of original sin being "like a virus" be applicable to my chain of reasoning if I don't believe in original sin? (Therefore no virus in humans )
    I'm assuming that you take the Bible as the literal inspired word of God
    (?correct) and believe in the original sin concept. Remember atheists do not; therefore, they do not see humans as created by a God or in need of redemption. Atheists believe Evolution is the story of the genesis of humanity, not two adult humans instantly created who became the parents of the whole human race. Former Christians such as John raised in the same belief system as you, already know your Christian belief as well as the SDA view of the plan of salvation in particular.
    You are so steeped in your own belief system, you can not reason from any non Christian point of view. You quite naturally respond with your own particular Christian belief system to remark or address some of the topics. Without knowing the information, facts, and talking points that strident atheist use it's pretty difficult to present or address these topics other than thru your belief system. You will see and understand everything through your embedded colored glasses.
    As I said, John and other former Christians ( or SDAs in your case) already know your point of view having been acculturated in that belief system. If you haven't been out of the Christian belief bubble it's hard to understand. Until you've studied other schools of thought and the sciences free of SDA/Christian censure or bias, with an open mind you will not understand. You will lovingly pray for that (Atheist) person to be touched by the Holy Spirit and be brought to belief in God and Jesus as our Savior. It's only natural because as a loving happy Christian you want others to share in salvation and the joy you find in your belief. I would not want to take that away from anyone. However, when most people declare atheism they can not go back. It's like learning there is no real Santa Claus.

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